The Mediocre Four

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Chapter Seven: Rise and Shine

The night went by; the star-covered skies fading into a washed-out blue hue as the morning sun arrived. The fire in the cave had long gone out, the four all laid around the few remaining embers that clung on for dear life.

The warlock had been right, they’d needed sleep, but none more than Jamal. He’d tossed and turned on the floor as the others lay still, his constant rummaging resulting from another instalment in his guilt fueled nightmares. As Jamal muttered to himself, their host made his return as he looked over at the sleeping four.

The warlock had stuck to his word. He had let them stay. Even when he wanted no part in this adventure, he’d been dragged into it nonetheless. But he wasn’t going to join willingly, he’d played that role far too many times, and he sure wasn’t going to start again. Right now, he just wanted them gone. Which meant it was time for a rude awakening. The warlock readied himself and took a deep breath.

“They’re coming! They’ve found us!” he bellowed so loudly it shook the cave, all whilst garnering his desired response, that being the four terrified faces looking toward him. “Out,” he said, knocking his staff on the side of the wall, keeping his point straightforward. He’d done more than enough for them now, all he was interested in was getting them out of his sight and off on their “quest”.

The four hadn’t enjoyed their abrupt waking, and even with the world slipping more and more into darkness they couldn’t help but feel that they could’ve done with an extra five minutes.

The warlock wouldn’t allow this, however, and when Otis fell back asleep, he gave him a swift slap to the back of the head which wouldn’t have surprised any of them if it left him with a mild concussion. The warlock seemed eager for them to leave, barely looking at any of them as he sent them through one of the many narrow tunnels.

“Aren’t you going to show us where to go?” asked June, struggling to get the words out as she let out a long yawn.

The warlock turned to her, and she braced herself as his bushy eyebrows settled on her.

“When you’re out. Keep going north, if you think you’ve found a path, don’t follow it,” he said before walking away, preemptively shielding himself from June’s several hundred follow-up questions. She wasn’t going to let him get off so easily, however. She called out to him once more.

“Thank you, for everything,” she said, causing him to halt his retreat momentarily, just long enough to hear her out before he disappeared out of view once again without another word. She sighed, turning back to the tunnel and following the others down it.

To say the warlock had given them the cold shoulder would be an understatement, but at the very least he’d given them a torch which Jamal held proudly as he led them through the tunnel, according to him this was the way he’d gotten in, which V, June and Otis were all very jealous of. At least they had been. As they moved further through the tunnel, it grew narrower and narrower.

June had watched as Otis hit his head several times as they went through the tunnel, she’d counted the grand total of fourteen times up to that point. She would’ve been worried but he seemed to shrug it off quite well. Clearly he’d developed some thick bones over his uncoordinated life.

“So what do you reckon was wrong with that dickhead?” said V, the dickhead she was referring to, they guessed being the warlock.

“You can’t say that, have you heard how much it echoes down here? He’ll probably hear us,” said Jamal, glancing back down the tunnel in case the warlock decided to come back to answer V’s question personally.

“He was kind enough to let us stay the night, for all he knew we could’ve been a group of bandits or marauders. So maybe we could refrain from insulting him,” said June.

V shrugged, agreeing with June partially, though she thought he could’ve utilised that kindness to show them the way out of the woods too.

“I thought he was pretty cool, I just wonder why he lives out in the lost woods of places. It must get lonely ,” said Otis, rubbing the top of his head which was incredibly sore.

“Well, from what we’ve seen of him I doubt he minds, he doesn’t strike me as a people person,” replied V, wiping sleep from her eyes.

The tunnel went on for a bit longer, getting narrower until they were having to crouch their way through it; an action made all the harder by how all four of them still resembled walking zombies at this point. This would turn out to be worth it in the end, as the glistening morning sun shone through a hole in the tunnel. They all picked up their pace, all wanting to rid themselves of the claustrophobic surroundings and take a deep breath of the morning air.

Jamal was first, then V who was followed quickly by Otis and then finally June. They all practically leapt out from the cave and started meandering around the forested area like they’d just learnt to walk.

“So, where do we go from here?” asked Jamal, throwing his torch to one side.

“The old man said north, so?” June paused looking around like they’d be a sign telling her.

Otis looked up at the clouds, watching them gently glide past. He reorientated himself accordingly.

“That way!” he said, pointing toward what they all assumed was his best guess at the north.

“How would you know that?” asked V.

“The direction of the clouds, they always move from west to east. It’s how I know which way to go for each town, I just watch the clouds,” replied Otis with a smile. He liked it when he was useful. But as he relished in the feeling, the faint smell of smoke plagued his nostrils. “Why does it smell like it’s burning?”

Jamal turned around at where he’d thrown the torch, seeing a rather unfortunately placed bundle of sticks aflame.

The flames weren’t exactly going to set the whole woods ablaze, but they were kicking up a tremendous amount of smoke, either way, making what would look like an SOS of some kind. There was no one near to help though. The only other thing able to answer this unintentional SOS was one that V, Otis and June didn’t want to get the attention of. So, the three of them, joined by Jamal, leapt onto the flame to quickly extinguish it.

“That was a close call, huh?” said Jamal, wiping sweat from his brow, the fire now successfully snuffed out by his feet. The others didn’t share his relieved expression as they listened out for any sign of movement over the treeline. Jamal was confused by what all the fuss was about, they’d put out the fire after all. “What’s up with you guys? We’re fine now look,” he said, trying his best to nudge their attention over to the small pile of ash.

“We’re looking out for that shade,” June whispered over to him.

“Wait, a shade? They’re still here?” he said, trying his best to keep his composure as he asked the question.

“Yeah, and it’s a massive fucker, the biggest one we’ve seen. The thing almost got to us before we ended up jumping into the ravine,” explained V, causing Jamal to sink into his armour like a turtle with a metal shell.

“From what I remember, you’re the only one who consciously jumped in there,” mumbled June.

“Are we seriously doing this again?” replied V. Sparking fear that another argument was due.

“Okay girls I think we’ve settled this already, let’s not have a rehash right now,” said Otis, taking a step back from the tree the three had huddled behind. “I can’t hear anything so I think we’re safe, we just need to head over in that direction,” he continued, pointing over to his right, or more specifically north.

The other three turned to him in agreement, they didn’t have enough time to go through the same old arguments, if they were going to make it to Glasshall before things got significantly worse, they’d have to push on and get on with it.

As the four settled on this plan, a shadow started to settle over them from above. It slowly grew over Otis before swallowing the other three.

Otis turned and looked behind him at the cave entrance they’d just left, but he couldn’t see what had caused it.

“Otis, you might want to look up,” V said from behind him, her voice lacking the usual air of confidence it often did.

He did what she’d suggested and looked up at the rocky crevice above the tunnel. That’s where he found what had cast the shadow. The dark infested giant that had almost caused their deaths.

The shade must’ve been waiting for them and now it sat looking down at the four from atop the mound of rock.

Otis gave a big gulp as he realised he was the first in the firing line. A million thoughts raced through his head all at once, settling eventually on one. He pulled out his wand and thought of rabbits again, hoping that something good might come of it.

The wand shot out a beam of light just like he hoped for, but didn’t hit the monster directly, hitting the rocky edge it was standing upon which gave its leap a different trajectory that it hadn’t intended, as it collided with several trees rather than Otis like it had wanted.

The other three would almost be proud of Otis. That is if the debris hadn’t blocked the tunnel exit that could’ve doubled as a good hidey-hole in this situation. With that strategy down the drain, the four supposed they’d have to revert to the classic tactic of running for their lives. So, without another word being said, they all rushed off in the direction Otis had pointed beforehand, taking full advantage of their head start as the shade got back to its feet.

The chase was on. Again.

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